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Most people involved with contact centers know of NICE Systems and its SmartCenter suite of workforce optimization products that support key contact center management capabilities such as call recording, quality monitoring, workforce management, customer feedback management and a variety of performance management and analytics tools. NICE recently received the top ranked Hot Vendor rating in the Ventana Research 2010 Value Index for Agent Performance Management.

The challenge for it and other vendors in the same space is that contact centers are changing, or more precisely the way companies handle customer interactions is changing. First and foremost companies must now support multiple channels and types of customer interactions: calls, e-mail, postal mail, surveys, instant messaging and chat, text messages, Web self-service and now social media. More often than not, the contact center is not responsible for all of these, which means more lines of business are handling customer interactions. These employees have to cope with that on top of their normal jobs, which can involve complex processes of their own, for example, handling customer insurance claims or putting together mortgage documentation. This situation is exacerbated as companies send more interactions to home-based workers, mobile workers and third parties providing interaction-handling services.

As a result more workers are less visible to central management, which makes it harder to identify what these employees are actually doing, scheduling how many are needed to meet expected workloads, monitoring how well or poorly they are doing, and producing all the required reports and analysis to monitor and assess their performance. In response and bolstered by its acquisition of eglue that I assessed, NICE Systems has taken the rather bold step of starting to offer products to support back-office activities. Its Back Office Suite has four main components: desktop process management, workforce management, quality management and performance management.

The process management tool is built on the acquired eglue product and allows companies to capture and monitor how employees actually use the systems on their desktops – what systems they access, what data they capture and access, and how they navigate between systems. This enables companies to identify best practices and where appropriate build a desktop that will steer everyone to follow the best practices. The same functionality can be used to ensure everyone follows defined processes to ensure compliance with designated regulations. The workforce management and quality monitoring applications use the existing front-office versions of these products to help companies forecast the staff numbers they need to cover back-office tasks and create structured processes to monitor and assess back-office employee performance and  better focus coaching. The performance management application is a version of the front-office product that is targeted to produce reports and analysis of how back-office employees are performing against key performance metrics. It draws data from back-office applications and other required data sources.

These applications are targeted at lines of business within a company that need to execute complex process (such as claims handling) on a consistent basis for large volumes of transactions, much as companies have had to learn to do in handling customer interactions. NICE simply intends to apply the experience it gained in the contact center to the people and processes associated with these back-office tasks. This wasn’t quite what I expected NICE Systems to do with its eglue acquisition. But I have written many times that a “smart” desktop can make agents not only more efficient but also much more effective at resolving customer issues. I see no reason why the same thinking can’t be applied to some complex back-office tasks. Has your company adopted a smart desktop in the contact center? Have you ever thought that using similar systems could make some of your back-office activities more efficient and effective? Let me know.

Let me know your thoughts or come and collaborate with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Regards,

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

All the buzz in the contact center market these days is about the “contact center in the cloud.” I have written on the subject, in particular “Is a Contact Center in the Cloud a Reality?” and “Will Cloud Computing Finally Bring Innovation to the Contact Center?”. In considering this issue my thinking focuses on what goes into a contact center and then what vendors offer these systems in the cloud. At the risk of oversimplifying things, I believe a contact center has two core components – communications management and agent and process management.

Communications management deals with the core technologies to manage phone calls (over traditional TDM or VoIP networks), other forms of interaction (such as e-mail, text, chat and social media, and subsidiary technologies such as dialers, interactive voice response (IVR) and speech recognition. In my mind it also includes routing of interactions from the point of receiving an external contact to delivering it to the most qualified person to handle that interaction, and using computer/telephony integration (CTI) to “pop” supporting information automatically onto the agent’s desktop as the interaction is received. Agent management includes the technologies we have defined in agent performance management, among them call recording, quality management, workforce management, compensation management, e-learning and coaching, agent reward management, and agent or contact center reporting and analytics (based on transactional data, voice recordings, text, desktop usage and social media). There are of course other systems used in a contact center to handle interactions, most notably CRM, but these two sets of management systems make up what I call a contact center.

It goes without saying that a complete contact center in the cloud would move all these systems from being on a company’s premises to a third-party site and make them accessible via the Internet. This brings us to my second question about which vendors come closest to having all these in the cloud. One that is now very close is inContact. After recently having announced two new products – for screen recording and quality management – it now just needs to address workforce management and compensation management. Screen recording allows companies to record how agents use their desktops to handle interactions and can be used to compare best and inferior practices and to uncover any areas of noncompliance by agents. Quality monitoring allows companies to build scorecards to monitor and assess agent performance and improve training and coaching.

In a further announcement inContact has come up with an unusual way to address one of the missing links – workforce management – by partnering with Verint. It is unusual because in my experience these deals are either pure marketing and sales partnerships or OEM deals where one partner basically markets, sells, delivers and supports the other party’s product, potentially rebranding it along the way. But as I understand this deal, inContact will redevelop the Verint product to be tightly integrated with its own home-grown solutions and have the same look and feel. When completed, this will provide companies with the capabilities to create work schedules for agents that match expected demand and then to monitor how well agents adhere to those schedules.

These developments all complement inContact’s existing solutions and make it possible for companies to have that contact center in the cloud.  But simply putting all the technology in the cloud does not solve every issue. Building a contact center has always been more than just buying technology. The systems have to be integrated with each other and with complementary systems such as CRM. To address this, inContact has paid particular attention to making it easy for companies to integrate its solutions with other in-house or third-party systems. Then there is the question of setting everything up and configuring the systems to support the way each individual company wants to manage interactions. As many media reports and social media sources show, this is not easy, and many customers are far from satisfied with how their interactions are handled. inContact therefore has built a full set of professional services to help companies set things up as they want, including some that help them incorporate the best practices inContact has learned in working with other companies within their own environment. Finally there is the question of security. This is a big issue for most companies thinking of moving any system to the cloud, and a contact center in the cloud adds some specific issues such as privacy of conversations, regulatory compliance and security of data. Once again inContact has recognized these issues and has built multiple layers of security around its services, which meet the highest standards of security requirements.

Despite all the hype, it is early days yet in the adoption of cloud-based solutions, including the contact center, and the fact of the matter is that such solutions are not going to suit everyone. However, I have heard in talking to several companies that have gone down this route one message that comes over loud and clear – moving to the cloud has allowed them, some might say driven them, to innovate in their operations more than they have done for several years. All my research on customer and contact center management points to the fact that companies need to improve the way they handle customer interactions. The inContact solution allows companies to do this. Anyone looking to build a center from scratch or replace out-of-date systems should consider what it has to offer.

Let me know your thoughts or come and collaborate with me on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Regards,

Richard Snow – VP & Research Director

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